Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Steven Spielberg had to go and restore Jaws, his 1975 classic. On Tuesday, Jaws makes its Blu-ray debut with a spectacular new restoration. Personally, I won't be swimming for the rest of the summer, except in my bathtub.
Under Spielberg's supervision, the restoration turns the murky images and faded colours of the deteriorating original print into something crisp, clean and colour-saturated. That makes Jaws even more terrifying, more thrilling, more mesmerizing than ever. The soundtrack -- all dialogue but especially John Williams' Oscar-winning score, with its ominous pulsations that signal the shark's approach -- has also been cleaned up and re-mixed into a DTS-HD 7.1 version for maximum power in home theatres.
"It's incredible!" Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottlieb says from home in Los Angeles about the impact of a restored Jaws. "It's just a beautiful job. It's a frame-by-frame restoration. And Spielberg participated with all the love of a parent who is grooming his kid."
That "kid" is now 37 but he looks better now than in 1975. Digital technology empowered Spielberg's team to colour-balance scenes with more efficiency than was possible in the 1970s, Gottlieb says. "When you get to the last third of the film, when the men are at sea, they've done miracles about balancing colour that was never possible during the film's life (in theatres)."
Jaws is one of 13 films Universal Studios Home Entertainment chose to honour for its current 100th anniversary. The showcase series offers each in restored versions on DVD and Blu-ray, with a digital copy. In addition, bonus materials are expanded. In the case of Jaws, in addition to recycling extras, there is a new 101-minute documentary called The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws. Obviously, from the title, it delves into the enduring status of Jaws and the difficulty in getting it made when "Bruce the Shark" broke down.
Jaws deserves this heightened attention. In its day, it generated $471 million in worldwide boxoffice, a staggering $260 million of that in North America. Adjusted for inflation, that $260 million is equal to $1 billion-plus today, putting Jaws at seven on the all-time blockbuster list for the U.S. and Canada.
"At a crass pop culture," Gottlieb says, Jaws is just famous for being famous, like the Kardashians today. Generations have reacted to its primal fears. Shark lovers such as Canadian environmentalist and filmmaker Rob Stewart, as well as Jaws author Peter Benchley, have campaigned for shark protection. Jaws is always part of these conversations. The title is known to millions who have never even seen the movie.
But Jaws is also great filmmaking, Gottlieb says. "Jaws became a classic in its time, and appropriately so. And then, because it's an Important Film with a capital 'I' and a capital 'F', it's revisited and new generations of film critics and film students discover it. But, if it was a Kardashian, they would discover it and reject it. Luckily for the film and egos of all of us involved, it's actually a very well-made horror film with a tremendous amount of humanity and good humour in it."
If Jaws has aged well, it is also due to the sophisticated storytelling and performances. At the heart of the story, says Gottlieb, "a three-headed hero" is represented by Richard Dreyfuss as the academic, Robert Shaw as the primitive and Roy Scheider as the everyman who has to mediate between the two to unite them in their quest. Taking another ride out to sea with these three men is one of the great experiences in American cinema.